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Currently | Getting Obsessed with Space

currently march 29 2015

Time and Place | Just after 10 a.m. sitting on my couch. We had friends over last night and ended up hanging out with them until far past my bed time… it’s been a slow morning.

Reading | It’s been a good week of reading! I spent most of the week reading That’s Not English by Erin Moore, a book looking at differences in language and culture in the United States and England. I liked it a lot. After that, I picked up An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield, a memoir by a retired Canadian astronaut who most recently served on the International Space Station. It was also really delightful. At the moment, I’m finishing up a young adult novel, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, all about ballerinas and prisoners. It’s a little paranormal and creepy, but also great.

Not Reading | Last week, I mentioned that I started Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte, but reading it was making me feel anxious. A couple of people asked about that in the comments, so I thought I’d elaborate. One of my “genre kryptonites” is books about time management, especially motherhood and time management. I don’t have kids, but reading about it is one of the ways I’m helping myself think about whether I want kids or not. The first few chapters of Overwhelmed were filled with these rushed stories about mothers running late and working constantly and ferrying kids around that made me want to bury my head in the sand… so I returned it to the library.

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A Day in the Life… of a Community Newspaper Editor

Day-in-the-Life-EventEarlier this month, Trish (Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity) invited book bloggers to participate in A Day in the Life, a snapshot of life at the moment tracked throughout a single day. I decided to track my day on Monday, March 23 — a day that ended up being a pretty average, if rather long, day in the life of a small town newspaper editor.

A Day in the Life… of a Community Newspaper Editor

6:00 a.m. | First alarm. Turn off and go back to sleep.

6:30 a.m. | I’m finally awake! I try to get up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. to have some quiet time to myself in the morning to read blogs, eat breakfast and watch television. I’d like to have a more productive morning routine – less social media, more reading or meditating – but I haven’t gotten there yet.

7:45 a.m. | Hop in the shower and start getting ready for work. Watch Book Riot videos while getting dressed. I switched out my closet for spring this weekend, right before Minnesota went back to a cold streak, so I have to dig a little bit for something to wear.

day in the life 1

8:30 a.m. | Out the door! Snow. Ugh.

8:40 a.m. | Arrive at work a little earlier than usual. Learn that the photo I thought I needed to take today is actually next Monday… boo.

9:00-ish | Start digging into my e-mail. I let it slide near the end of last week so I’ve got some catching up to do. Since our newspaper comes out on Saturdays, Monday is often a catch up/plan for the week day.

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In My Mailbox: March 2015

I didn’t do a great job tracking books that arrived at my house this month. About midway through I just got tired of writing them down… so I stopped. Instead of a comprehensive list, I’m going to share some titles that were highlighted on a visit I made to the offices of Graywolf Press in Minneapolis, then highlight just a couple of the other books that I know arrived in my mailbox sometime in March.

Graywolf Press Spring Titles

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Graywolf Press is an independent, literary nonprofit publishing company based in Minneapolis. I’ve met members of their publicity staff, Marisa Atkinson and Erin Kottke, at Book Expo America a couple of times, and had a chance to meet Executive Editor Jeff Shotts when he came out to our local college campus for a visit last month. When I e-mailed Jeff to set up a visit while I was in the Twin Cities this month, he was nice enough to oblige me.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I found myself drawn back to some books that I know fall right in the middle of my reading wheelhouse — well-reported nonfiction on quirky subjects. In this case, both The Great Beanie Baby Bubble and The Monopolists use stories about the cutthroat business of toys to explore large questions in history, economics and American culture. I can’t wait to tell you about them both.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

the great beanie baby bubble by zac bissonnetteAs a fifth grader, I was totally obsessed with Beanie Babies. During the height of my mania, my best friend and I staged an elaborate Beanie wedding between two of our Beanie Babies, George the Gorilla and Bessie the Cow, that included tiny cakes, carefully chosen music, and many, many, many Beanie Baby wedding guests.

The joy of play is not what led to the massive obsession with Beanie Babies that characterized much of the years 1996 to 1999. Zac Bissonnette writes about this period, as well as enigmatic and unpleasant Beanie Baby creator Ty Warner in The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute.

This book is totally awesome. It has, no joke, some of the best quotes from interviews that I’ve ever read in a reported work of nonfiction — a testament, I’d guess, to both what a good reporter Bissonnette is and to how much people who worked with Ty Warner actually hate him now. Warner declined to be interviewed for the book, but I think Bissonnette’s reporting paints a fairly accurate (and sometimes sympathetic) portrait of a man who is best known for his creativity, ruthlessness and aptitude for persuasion.

In addition to capitalizing on the nostalgia of Beanie Babies, Bissonnette uses the Beanie Baby craze to look more broadly at consumer economics issues like speculative markets and the way behavioral fallacies lead to bad economic decisions. The market forces and personal choices that led to the rise and crash of Beanie Babies are the same issues that led to the Internet stock bubble and, even more recently, the mortgage-backed securities that led to the economic collapse of 2008.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is a heck of a fun read, as well as a smart look at some important issues in economics that consumers would benefit from understanding better. I tore through this one in a single day.

The Monopolists by Mary Pilon

the monopolists by mary pilonThe Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon is so perfectly in my nonfiction sweet spot that I could have written it myself. And I wish that I had, because The Monopolists is pretty great.

In this book, journalist Mary Pilon shares the little-known history of Monopoly. As it turns out, the history of the game that Parker Brothers has tried to sell — unemployed salesman Charles Darrow came up with the idea for the game alone during the Great Depression — ignores the long history the game had in the public domain. And, even worse, it ignores the female activist who came up with one of the earliest versions of the game, Lizzie Magie.

In addition to bringing to light a woman who has had her story nearly erased, the book is great because it situates Monopoly — as well as the game’s predecessors and followers — within the cultural and economic contexts of United State history. Lizzie Magie’s first version, The Landlord’s Game, was inspired by the single tax system at the turn of the century. Monopoly as we know it took off during the Great Depression as a way for people to live large while life was tough, while Anti-Monopoly was a response to the economics of the 1970s. And board games in general became popular as part of a larger cultural shift that allowed for more leisure time and family time.

The Monopolists is great as a cultural history, a legal “thriller,” a feminist exploration and a primer on the competitive world of board game development. I highly recommend it.

What are some of your favorite books about the business of toys?

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Currently | Finally Making Time to Read

currently march 22 2015

Time and Place | About 7:30 a.m. in my favorite chair at home. I don’t like how dark it is this early in the morning, thanks to the time change. But oh well, it’s spring now.

Reading | I finished more books in the last two days than I finished in the rest of the month of March combined. It’s been a tough month to settle in with a book, but I’m trying to make time when I can. I start to get a little out of sorts when I go too long without reading. On Friday night, I stayed up late finishing Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, a sort of Pride and Prejudice satire set in contemporary Singapore and China. Yesterday, I started and finished The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette, a look at the rise and fall of the speculative mania around Beanie Babies in the last 1990s. I also started Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte, but the first couple chapters on the time pressures of modern life made me anxious. I’m going to give it a few more chapters today before I decide whether to quit reading and move on to something else.

Listening | The soundtrack from the first season of FOX’s Empire is on Spotify, and I kind of love it.

Blogging | Since I last updated, I wrote about why I loved Nina MacLaughlin’s Hammer Head, three things that help me get stuff done, and why I’m intimidated by brutal fiction.

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